"Bye, my baby. Mommy's going to miss you so much today. I love you." These were my words from the door about to go to work for the first time in 14 months. If you've ever taken a maternity or parental leave, you know that the return to work is an incredibly emotional time. Will he like the daycare? Will other kids be mean to her? How is my partner going to handle him all day long? Am I making the right choice? Having spent every day with my son for the past 14 months, I was worried that he would miss me incredibly while I was away. He might cry all day without me - a thought that broke my heart. I was holding back tears and trying to keep it together, knowing that so much was going to change from here on in. Now what was the response to my heartfelt goodbye? My little boy looked at me from his highchair, blinked his big brown eyes, and then went back to shoveling blueberries and yogurt into his mouth. "We'll be alright," my husband said, and with that, I left for the day. "Ok," I thought. "I guess that's alright. He's busy, and that's good." When I got home after being gone for ten hours, I was so excited to spend time with my son. "Hi babe! It's mamma! Come give me a hug!" The response? Crying and clutching daddy's legs like I was about to do something horrible to him like clip his toenails. My response? Pure sadness and disappointment.
As a new mom, I expected my baby to have a deep desire to be with me. And why not? I'm fun, I cook delicious food, I take him out to play and just generally love to him to bits. That day at dinner, I felt heartbroken when I found out that he didn't seem to miss me at all that first day, and on top of that, he clung to his dad for most of the evening. When you have so much love in your heart for someone, especially the little someone you brought into the world, rejection really hurts.
I thought about his behaviour a lot that night. Of course, I knew that parenting would be hard and that kids are little people with their own minds. There are ups and downs just like everything else in life. We have those precious moments when they giggle over the soft tickle of a dandelion on their nose, or when the big goofy grin they make reminds us of ourselves. A hug from them will melt your heart every time, but what about the other times - the day you get slapped in the face, literally or figuratively, for no apparent reason, or when they look at you and say, "I hate you, Mommy." I remember packing my suitcase with my favourite toys and telling my mom I was leaving home at about 4 years old because I thought she was so mean and unfair. I think I made it halfway down our back alley before I changed my mind.
So what's a mom to do? I am the oldest of five girls in my family, and I asked my mom one day how she handled those tough days with us. " You need a thick skin, Mary. They all come around and appreciate you one day. It might not be until they're 25, but they get there." We laughed about that, mom to mom, and she's absolutely right. The five of us really appreciate her as a mother and a strong woman today, especially after becoming moms and aunties ourselves.
That week, I kept thinking about how I was going to deal with my feelings. Maybe he'll appreciate me before 25, but how do I handle those hard times? Having a thick skin is okay, but I didn't want to just build a wall. I remembered a wonderful book I read a few years back called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. In the book, Ruiz talks about how there are four things we can do to lead happier lives full of love. One of them is don't take anything personally, and another is don't make assumptions. He believes that when someone treats us badly or does something that hurts, we must recognize that is because they are dealing with an issue in their own life. It is not our fault that they are acting in a negative way, so we shouldn't take it to heart. Also, we cannot assume that we know the motivations and actions of others only the individual can reveal why he or she has done something. I reread some passages, and I saw that day a little differently. I took my son's reaction as a personal slight when really it was just a response to something going on in his little mind. I know he loves me, so I shouldn't have felt so hurt. I also assumed that my baby didn't want to see me, but really, he might have just been happy playing with his dad at the moment I got home and didn't want to stop.
Over the next week, I really tried to remember these agreements, and I felt less upset and happier regardless of my baby's actions. The following Monday, I went back to work and said goodbye to my busy boy again. This time I got a smile and a little wave. "Cool!" I thought. When I got home, I didn't get a hug, but he grabbed my purse and took out each of the items in it, one by one. When he was done removing all the cards from my wallet, he clapped his hands in triumph. "Wow! You did it!" I said, and beaming, he lunged at me, arms out. In an instant, that thickened skin and objectivity melted away into the softest sweetest permeable membrane of love. I hugged my boy and smiled. It was a perfect moment to start my week, and the days have been getting better ever since.